People Are Retiring Earlier Than Ever—Here’s How
Ever since millennials entered the workforce, we've been redefining career goals.
We're the generation that bore the gig economy, social media influencers, and the side hustle. We prioritized flexible hours, self-care and personal satisfaction in the workplace. We believed our dream job was out there if we just kept working to find it . But then, something shifted.
Call it disillusionment or just getting older, but the new millennial career dream is not having a job at all. Blame burnout in the digital age, where work-life balance is nearly impossible; or blame companies like Google and Facebook, who once topped the list of ideal employers before wage gaps, election hacking, privacy infringements and other scandals tarnished their reputations.
Whatever the reason, for some, the dream job has been replaced by the dream of early retirement. Enter the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement—a rapidly growing collective of big-thinkers who are saving to retire by their 30s and early 40s.
Hard work pays offPractical Money Skills
FIRE sowed its seeds on Reddit forums and millennial money blogs—which preach the gospel of 70%, AKA saving 70% of your yearly income for a fixed amount of time. Attempting as much on an average salary involves a lot more than coupon cutting. Every penny saved—through blood, sweat, second jobs and serious downsizing—goes into income-earning investments like low-fee retirement accounts.
It may sound far-fetched, but for some 30-something savers, retirement is already a reality. In September, The New York Times profiled several individuals, formerly employed in tech, finance, creative, and recruiting fields, who have already called it quits on the working world.
While some FIRE folks have had the benefit of hearty six-figure salaries, others have managed to punch out their time cards indefinitely by maximizing more modest salaries. But fair warning: it isn't easy.
Members of the FIRE movement looking to retire ASAP work round the clock and pinch pennies to the extreme—we're talking no dinners out, no movies, no gym memberships, and no life until their retirement finances are in order.
So how much downsizing are we talking about? One couple, Scott and Taylor Rieckens—both in their 30s and earning a combined $160,000 prior to ditching their 9-to-5 jobs—moved their family from California to Oregon to scale back on rent, sales tax, and gas mileage. They also swapped one of their cars for a more cost-effective bicycle. But on the plus side, they no longer work day jobs and have more time to spend raising their child and developing pet projects.
The RieckensThe New York Times
"The whole retire early thing is unimportant to me. It's more about gaining control of your time," Scott, a former creative director, told the Times. "If you dive into the definition of retirement, what you're retiring from is mandatory labor. It's not necessarily about piña coladas on the beach."
Las Vegas residents Joe and Ali Olsen can attest to that. Both began as teachers in 2004, when they decided they wanted to work less and travel more. By taking on extra jobs—from teaching summer school to running fitness programs—they slowly but steadily increased their earnings by about 50% without increasing their spending habits.
Joe and Ali Olsen with their childBusiness Insider
"We kept driving the same cars... We also ate at home, a lot. Eating out was rare, and a treat," Joe told Business Insider in 2017.
The couple continued living on a $20,000-a-year household budget and saving around 75 percent of their combined $80,000 annual income until they accrued enough to buy a rental property. Then they bought 14 more.
"When we started acquiring rentals, friends and family would ask when we were going to move into one of these three-bedroom, 1,800 square feet places, rather than our tiny condo," Joe told Business Insider. "But we were happy where we were. We never felt like we were depriving ourselves, because simple pleasures were enough."
A search of the FIRE Reddit forum, which boasts around 430,000 subscribers, reveals that some of the biggest hardships are letting go of the small indulgences. One user bemoans saying goodbye to craft beer, another gave up bowling. One user misses pizza delivery the most, while a few gear-heads have traded in their prized wheels for used cars. But many agree that a life without Starbucks and gym memberships is worth the long-term independence.
While there's no precise formula for extremely early retirement, there are some hacks to get started, including setting up auto-recurring bank transfers that withdraws money at set times depending on your paychecks, so that portions are allotted to checking, savings and investments automatically.
"When it comes to investing, the most common investment strategy of FIRE folks is to max out traditional IRAs and 401(k)s and put the remainder of their money in low fee index funds," notes Vice's Shomari Wills, who covered the phenomenon back in June. "Compounding interest helps the money pile up faster."
Then there are the bargain-basement tricks that the Reddit community shares with each-other—from renting video games at the library, to coupon-ing, and maximizing credit card points and other hacks.
Every penny counts www.valpak.com
But for all the bargain-hunting brags, the journey to financial freedom can take its toll. "Anyone else tempted sometimes to 'give up?'" one FIRE Redditer asked, before describing another taxing day of work and hardcore savings.
"Individuals who retire early are choosing to stop their earned income, which is the greatest defense against life expenses," Hank Mulvihill, a Dallas-based senior wealth adviser warned Marketwatch readers. "This is a decision not to be taken lightly."
One issue with retiring so early is unexpected expenses— think surprise pregnancies or health issues. If emergency money is tied up in retirement funds, penalty fees for early withdrawals will set you back. The precarious state of the healthcare system also makes planning ahead a challenge.
Then there's the issue of putting your happiness on hold in the hopes of future financial freedom.
"Financial independence shouldn't come at the cost of your happiness as you work endlessly and never enjoy the fruits of your labor in fears of derailing your early retirement goals," writes Hank Coleman on Yahoo Finance.
Time to relaxamp.businessinsider.com
Remember the Olsens? They have a different take. In 2015, just eleven years after entering the workforce, the couple had saved over $1 million, and decided to quit their teaching jobs in order to travel around the world. While they still oversee their many rental properties, they've gained the flexibility to pursue the dreams they never had time for before. They also keep a blog, Adventuring Along, where they chronicle their travels and offer financial and real estate coaching.
"Teaching was one of our lives," the pair shared on their blog. "We loved it, but we also love our new one of travel and kids. Financial independence gives us the ability to take the risks to explore these lives. Despite loving our jobs, we quit, and couldn't be happier."
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Looking for a job? In addition to encountering those annoying never-ending job interviews you may find yourself face-to-face with an artificial intelligence bot.
Companies worldwide increasingly use artificial intelligence tools and analytics in employment decision-making – from parsing through resumes and screening candidates to automated assessments and digital interviews. But recent studies claim that AI does more harm than good.
While AI screening tools were developed to save companies time and money, they’ve been criticized for placing women and people of color at a disadvantage. The problem is that many companies lack appreciable diversity in their data set, making it impossible for an algorithm to know how people from underrepresented groups have performed in the past. As a result, the algorithm will be biased toward the data available and compare future candidates to that archetype.
The City’s Automated Employment Decision Tools (AEDT) law is designed to offset the potential misuse of AI and protect job candidates against discrimination. It was enforced on July 5th, 2023 in New York City - with other cities and states expected to gradually follow suit. Employers must now inform applicants when and how they encounter AI. Furthermore, companies have to commission a third-party audit of the AI software used, and publish a summary of the results to prove that their systems aren’t racist or sexist. Job applicants are able to request information regarding what data is collected and analyzed by the AI. Violations of the law can result in fines of up to $1,500.
Replacing Human Hiring Decisions
However, should a job applicant want to opt-out of such impersonal judgement by a bot, the new law's scope is quite limited.
While the law specifies that instructions for requesting an alternative selection process must be included in the AI screening disclosure, companies aren't actually required to use other screening methods. Not to mention that the law only applies to AI in hiring and not any other employment decisions. It also wouldn't apply if the AI, for example, flags candidates with relevant experience, but a human then reviews all applications, making the ultimate hiring decision.
Some civil rights advocates and public interest groups argue that the law isn’t extensive enough and that it’s even unenforceable. On the other hand, businesses say that it’s impractical, costly, and burdensome, and that independent audits aren’t feasible.
Responsible use of AI in hiring
Although this law may be a good first attempt to assign more regulatory guardrails around AI, it remains to be seen if it ensures the responsible use of AI in hiring processes. At the end of the day, perhaps recruiting talent should remain a human-made decision.
The good news is that AI can help companies without harming potential job candidates in many ways – such as connecting new employees with internal organizational information and company benefits during onboarding. Or helping employees to do their jobs more effectively rather than replacing them.
There’s all this talk about solo travel. And for good reason — no wasting precious time waiting for others to get their act together, take the plans out of the group chat and actually buy the tickets. Going solo, you can be spontaneous. You can plan your trips according to your precise tastes. You can hop on any flight and fly awayyyyyy.
But what if each time you flew you’d get a free ticket? That’s what you get with the Southwest Companion Pass.
Award status, upgrades, lounge access — there are many perks in the frequent flier game. But one of the coveted holy grails is the Southwest Companion Pass.
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
The Companion Pass is part of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program. You get to choose one person to be your “companion,” and they fly with you for free (plus some taxes and fees) on every flight. That’s right. Two for the price of one. That’s half off each ticket if you split it! Whether you’re flying with a partner, family member, friend, or anyone else, they can tag along for free.
And it gets better: once you earn the pass, you can reap the rewards for that full calendar year … AND the next. That’s why people go mad trying to earn a companion pass during the early months of the year. The sooner you qualify, the longer you can use it.
There are also no blackout dates. There are no limits. And if you didn’t purchase the ticket (think: work travel, your companion, or a generous benefactor), there are no restrictions! As long as you’re the one on the plane, your companion can also … be on the plane.
You can also switch out your designated companion 3x a year. So, no need to stay in a relationship simply to get the most out of your companion pass! Ghost and fly away — with a whole new companion!
If this sounds too good to be true — it’s not. But there is one small catch. It’s kinda tough to earn this mega reward.
How to qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass?
You can qualify for the pass in one of two ways:
- Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights
- Earn 135,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.
Clearly, this is no small feat — especially if you’re trying to qualify ASAP.
So how do you actually earn the Southwest Companion Pass?
Don’t worry, there’s a path to earning this amazing reward without climbing on 100 flights or spending an exorbitant amount of money.
Earning 135K reward points may seem completely impossible, but it’s easier than it sounds. Simply sign up for a Southwest Credit Card and turn those spending habits into a rapid rewards account. Through the Rewards Priority Credit Card, earn points when using local transit and commuting, plus score major points and miles whenever you spend.
Stay with me here. This is not some scheme to get you into credit card debt. Many airline cards come with potential savings, giantic rewards, awarding you points, and cashback with every purchase you make that can be redeemed for travel. And often they can come with passive sign-up bonuses. If you spend a specific amount of money within a certain timeframe of opening the card, you can be in for a windfall of points.
Now that’s where the companion pass comes in:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Priority Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card
- Southwest Performance Business Credit Card
Southwest has three personal cards and a business card. Each of these cards offers rewards between 30K-80K points. In the past, people could open two cards and get a bonus that granted enough points to almost meet the minimum. However, with new restrictions on personal cards, you can only get one bonus every 24 months. Boo!
However, this doesn’t apply to business cards. If you’re eligible, have good credit, and not likely to spiral into insane credit card debt, you can open a business card and a personal card, and accrue 100K+ points. The Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card will get you points after you spend money in no time.
Now to earn the rest of them.
The secret to gaining these credit card points is to plan your card sign-ups around big purchases. Just before a recent move, I opened a card . . . and the rewards came rolling in — a small balm to ease the pain of how exorbitant moving can be.
Put everyday spend — especially big purchases or bulk items — on your Southwest credit card and watch your award points quickly add up. Typically, you earn 1 point per $1 spent on your Southwest card and 2 points per $1 on actual Southwest purchases.
But there are other ways to earn points, including:
- Flying Southwest: Booking travel on Southwest earns more points. The cost of this travel will be worth it with your companion pass
- Shopping from Rapid Rewards Partners: Purchases with Southwest’s “Home & Lifestyle” and “Shop and Dine” Partners also earn Companion Pass qualifying points. While you shouldn’t make gratuitous purchases, browse Southwest’s partners to see if you could earn extra points for items you'd be purchasing anyway. All this, simply from enrolling in their Dining Program and shopping with their partners.
So there you have it! And since it’s almost Spring, get to earning and soon you’ll be flying two for the price of one!